The Valentine’s dinner crawl

Beer, sushi and ice cream highlight a perfect February night in Sandpoint

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Amid the coldest stretch of weather North Idaho has yet to offer this winter, my fiancé Alex and I made the half-hour trek from our home to downtown Sandpoint on a recent Friday afternoon with plans to celebrate my birthday and Valentine’s Day with one of our signature multi-tiered dates.

A pair of pints at MickDuff’s Beer Hall. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

These events are just that — events — since our proximity to town makes trips for anything other than groceries a major treat. We dressed up and braved single-digit temperatures in pursuit of three of our favorite things: craft beer, sushi and — perhaps not our most weather-appropriate craving — ice cream. We’d embarked on the same mission almost exactly a year before, when the evening became the last “normal” thing we did before the global COVID-19 pandemic began to affect our corner of the world in earnest.

The 2021 installment of the Valentine’s dinner crawl started at MickDuff’s Beer Hall around 3 p.m. The Beer Hall remains a staple in our life together, as a place we meet up with friends or simply grab a beer before dinner. Don’t tell Alex, but my favorite memory is from 2017, when on his 21st birthday, I suggested his first legal drink be at the Beer Hall. We sat at the bar, he nonchalantly requested a Coors Light, and the bartender very politely informed him that this was a brewery — they didn’t have domestics. He settled on a blonde ale.

So imagine Alex’s excitement when we arrived at the Beer Hall Friday and discovered a new option: Mickduff’s Light. I ordered A Great Day For Hop — a hazy IPA with fruity tones. Side by side, our pints showcased the true his-and-hers nature of our relationship — Alex’s beer reflected the sunshine from our tableside window beautifully, while mine looked as though I might need to chew it.

Alex chose La Cerveza for his second round, a refreshing Mexican lager served with a lime. I went for a MickDuff’s staple I’d somehow never tried, the Lupulicious IPA, and holy cow — I found a new favorite. Rich without being heavy, I could have had three. Luckily, we didn’t have time — we wanted to get to Thai Nigiri right when it opened for dinner at 4 p.m. We settled our tab — about $20 at around $5 a pint — and decided to drive the two blocks to dinner thanks to Mother Nature’s chilly wrath.

A hearty sampling of sushi rolls at Thai Nigiri. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

While Thai Nigiri is traditionally a sit-down-and-get-served establishment, we walked in to discover that guests now order before sitting down at one of the well-spaced tables in the dining area. The whole process was quick and COVID-responsible, which was awesome. We ordered a beer each along with five sushi rolls to share, bringing our total to almost $65. If you’re thinking “that doesn’t sound like a lot of food for that price,” you’ve never stared at a platter of half-eaten sushi rolls, approaching full but nonetheless unable to stop picking up pieces of the stuff because the flavors are out of this world. For such small portions, sushi is wonderfully filling.

We ordered four of our standby favorites: the Philedelpia roll, which has salmon, crab, cucumber, avocado and cream cheese; the shrimp tempura roll, featuring fried shrimp wrapped with crab, cucumber and avocado, then covered in yum yum and eel sauces; the Green Monster roll, which has spicy tuna and cucumbers topped with avocado, yum yum and eel sauces; and the spicy tuna tempura roll, which has spicy tuna and avocado deep fried in a whole roll and topped with yum yum and eel sauces.

We asked the hostess which sushi people are afraid to try, but then love when they do. She suggested the Alaska roll: crab, cucumber and avocado topped with salmon, lemon, green onion and tobiko — the Japanese word for bright red flying fish caviar.

Our food came quickly on one large platter, perfect for sharing. None of the rolls disappointed, with the Alaska proving to be the most refreshing of them all. Still, I let Alex eat most of it, since he was a little more enthusiastic about the fish eggs.

The Philadelphia remains a favorite — who can say no to cream cheese? — and I love the Green Monster. Fried rolls disappeared the quickest, winning our hearts with their crunchy texture.

Capping off date night with ice cream from Panhandle Cone and Coffee. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

Sushi consumed and the winter sun on its way out, we hopped across First Avenue to visit Panhandle Cone and Coffee. I’d already cheated my lactose-free diet once with the cream cheese in my sushi, so I got a scoop of non-dairy peppermint mocha. Alex opted for a split scoop of Not-So-Hot Buttered Rum and Salted Caramel & Brown Butter Cookie. While I appreciate non-dairy options, nothing compares to perfectly blended, locally made, dairy-filled ice cream. After sampling our choices, the rum flavor was my favorite, while Alex said the cookie batter chunks in the salted caramel flavor won his heart.

The evening ended just as we’d hoped it would: home by 6:30 p.m., with enough time to get the wood stove back to peak heating capacity and watch an episode or two of a TV show before bed. With the dog in my lap and the cat in his, we reflected on the delicacies of our adventure, agreed we were stuffed and began to ponder what we might try on our next dinner crawl.

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